EU ambassadors meet with MILF officials

The ambassadors left the question unanswered.

The  EU diplomats arrived here Monday to meet with stakeholders in the peace process, their last stop Wednesday at the headquarters of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT).

French Ambassador Gerard Chesnel served as head of delegation of the 11-person team from the EU. The other team members were EU Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, Ambassadors Herbert Jager of Austria, Gregoire Vardakis of Belgium, Ritta Resch of Finland, Robert Brinks of Netherlands, Valeriu Gehoerge of Romania, Luis Arias Romero of Spain, Inger Utvedt of Sweden and Peter Beckingham of the United Kingdom. Also with them was Jean-Louis Bertrand, first secretary of the French Embassy.

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EU ambassadors at conference room of MILF peace panel office.
MindaNews photo by CO Arguillas

The nearly-two hour dialogue at the conference room flowed over to the dining area where lunch was served.

“Very enlightening,” Resch told Mastura as she and the rest of the ambassadors said goodbye. Mastura noted she asked “very pointed questions.”

Aside from the status of the peace talks with the Philippine government, the questions raised by the ambassadors included ancestral domain, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in relation to the MILF’s proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE),.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said the MILF is still awaiting the Philippine government’s move.

Iqbal later told MindaNews that major and minor issues in relation to the ancestral domain issue had been ironed out during the February 19 to 22 visit of the Malaysian facilitator, Datuk Othman bin Abdul Razak,  who was shuttling between the MILF and government peace panels.

MindaNews sought government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia for comment but was unable to reach him by phone.

The last time the government and MILF peace panels met was on January 31 to February 1 during a special meeting composed of four members from each side.

Prior to that, the government and MILF peace panels were supposed to have met on December 15 and 16 in Kuala Lumpur to finalize the draft of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, in preparation for the signing of a comprehensive peace pact.

But the talks at the Sheraton Imperial did not push through. The Malaysian facilitator informed government peace panel chair Garcia that the MILF had called off the meeting.

Iqbal in a December 15 statement from Kuala Lumpur which he signed as MILF information chief, said the government’s draft agreement was  “totally unacceptable,” claiming the government panel “reneged” on the consensus points on the four strands of Ancestral Domain.

“The government Peace Panel has introduced extraneous and new matters not discussed and taken upon by the Parties during the previous exploratory talks on Ancestral Domain,” he said.

The Ancestral Domain agenda was divided into four sections – concept, territory, resources and governance.

The talks had ended in an impasse in September 2006 on the aspect of territory under the ancestral domain agenda. It was only on October 24, 2007 when the two panels finally broke the 13-month impasse, expressing “deep satisfaction over the successful resolution of major issues to overcome the impasse.”

The two panels met again in November and were supposed to meet in December 2007 to finalize the draft agreement on ancestral domain but no such meeting happened.

The diplomatic team was accompanied to the highway junction by a team from the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (Joint CCCH). The CCCH of the government remained at the highway while the MILF CCCH escorted the diplomats into the camp.

The government’s CCCH is headed by Army Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Sealana while the MILF’s is headed by Toks Ebrahim.

In a statement, Sealana thanked the ambassadors “for their keen interest in the peace process, and for taking the time to gain a better understanding of Mindanao development.”

He also noted “the significant contributions of the international community, particularly the European Union, in addressing poverty and marginalization in Mindanao’s conflict- affected areas.”

According to the website of the Delegation of the EU to the Philippines, “the EU (EC, the European Investment Bank and Member States) collectively accounts for €1.365 billion of total official development assistance (ODA) loans and grants (€16.65 billion) extended to the Philippines over the period 1992-2000,” placing the EU as “the country’s fourth largest ODA contributor.”

“Taking only ODA grants into account, the EU is the country’s second largest source, after Japan,” it said.

Dr. Danda Juanday, head of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA),  delivered a Powerpoint presentation of photographs of 44 projects in the conflict-affected areas which the EU funded through the BDA. The BDA has been tasked by the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 between the government and MILF to determine, lead and manage development in the conflict-affected areas.

The ambassadors on Monday paid a courtesy call on Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema at City Hall and had informal talks with the Joint Chamber of Commerce Presidents of Cotabato at the Estosan Hotel where they were also billeted.

Before meeting with the MILF peace panel, the ambassadors paid a courtesy call on the ARMM governor but Governor Zaldy Ampatuan was not around. In his stead, Executive Secretary Oscar Sampulna received the delegation.

From the MILF camp, the diplomats held an informal meeting with civil society representatives at the Notre Dame University.

Their last stop Wednesday was the IMT headquarters. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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